Ahead on all three judges' scorecards, Jones, then a 29-year-old rising star, was less than 3 1/2 minutes from claiming the vacant IBF welterweight belt when Bailey knocked him out. For 2 weeks afterward, he said, he didn't do a thing. He had never before even been knocked down, as an amateur or a professional, let alone knocked out, and was forced to deal with the repercussions of his only loss in 27 pro fights.
"I think somebody said something to me one day, they said, 'If it comes easy, then it ain't worth it,' " Jones recalled. "I had to sit on that. I thought about it. I said, 'Man, I wasn't fighting the best way I could've fought.' I wasn't giving it my all like I used to.
"I was just trying to get by, and you can't get by winning a championship fight. It's going to show up later on in life. I believe that was something that had to close for me, like a chapter in my life that just had to end. I was succeeding, but I was kind of cheating myself, and you can't continue to do that. Eventually it will [show].
"Some people learn harder than others, and I was one of the ones that always learned the hard way. I'm OK with that."
Jones, now 31, hasn't been heard from much since the Bailey fight, shying from most interview requests over the last 2 years. Shortly after the crushing defeat, he relocated from North Philly to Henderson, Nev., a Las Vegas suburb he feels better fits his laid-back personality. He said he never stopped training, working briefly with Floyd Mayweather Sr. and also some with Roy Jones Jr., but until recently wouldn't agree to a fight for much less money than he had grown accustomed to making.
As a boxer who had earned triple-digit paydays and experienced the highs of fighting in Madison Square Garden, Cowboys Stadium and the MGM Grand, Jones felt he was worth more than the $10 grand he was being offered to fight in a main event. He voiced displeasure with his team - his promoters, J Russell Peltz and Top Rank, and his manager, Doc Nowicki - and held out for more. Eventually, he came to the realization he would need to simply get back into the ring, which he will do tomorrow night when he ends an 804-day layoff with a bout against 25-year-old Jaime Herrera (11-2, 6 KOs) at Bally's.
"Most importantly, though, I'm not looking at none of that," he said, referring to the issues that led him to his lengthy absence. "All of that is behind me. I'm 100 percent positive. Not 99, not 95, 100 percent positive. All the negativity is behind me and I'm just looking forward to going forward in my career and being better, being a better fighter than I was."
Reservations from boxing fans will persist until it's actually witnessed in the ring - and perhaps even until it's duplicated several times - but Jones insists he can indeed be a better boxer at 31 than he was at 29. The key for him, he said, is to resume boxing like he did early in his career, when he fought freely and instinctively and knocked out his first 12 opponents, 15 of his first 17. As his status burgeoned, the more he started over-thinking every move in the ring, basically fighting to not lose rather than to win.
"Everybody can't just get by like that, but I was talented enough to get by for a few fights," said Jones, now based out of the Top Rank Gym in Vegas and trained by Ismael Salas and Miguel Diaz. "It's not something you want to do. You're cheating yourself and you're cheating the fans as well. I was just frustrated mentally.
"A lot of things weren't going my way with the management and promotional issues and stuff like that. I was always kind of terrified, in a way, that if I was to lose a fight then I would end up where I'm at now. I wouldn't get the money I thought I deserved, the things of that nature, and it came to pass. I should've still stayed true to myself, instead of getting scared like that."
Jones started boxing when he was 15 after he was cut from the Martin Luther King High's freshman basketball team, finding refuge in Joe Frazier's gym. A decade and a half later, away from the public eye, he spent time looking inward. He's no longer mad or pointing fingers, he insists; he's ready to move forward.
Just as it was 26 months ago, winning a world title is his goal, the plausibility of which hinges on which Mike Jones shows up against Herrera. Will we see the Mike Jones who once was billed as the next premier boxer to come out of Philly? Or the Mike Jones who admittedly fought just to "get by"?
A once-promising boxing career officially reboots tomorrow, one way or the other.
On Twitter: @jakemkaplan